Activity:

Make a Drop Spindle - With a Turnip!

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What You Need:

  • Wooden dowel, 1/2" diameter
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Several turnips or beets
  • Apple corer
  • 2 wide rubber bands
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Cup hook screw
  • 2 balls of hairy lightweight yarn

What You Do:

  1. Choose a vegetable. It must be 4" to 5" wide, weigh between 4 and 6 ounces, and be of uniform roundness at it's widest point. Allow plenty of time for finding a perfect turnip! Buy extras for do-overs.
  2. Prepare the shaft. Have your child make a point on one end of the dowel with a pencil sharpener. He should use sandpaper to sand the shaft smooth, then screw the cup hook into the flat end.
  3. Now it's time to prepare the whorl. He'll use the apple corer to make a hole through the center of the turnip, so that he can stick the dowel through it more easily. Before he gets started, make sure he knows that the apple corer must enter and leave straight through the center. Too much angle between enter and exit will make the spindle wobble rather than spin. He should stick the corer in the bottom, turning it like a screwdriver as he pushes down and out the other side.
  4. Once the hole is made, assemble the drop spindle. Have him push the whorl a few inches up the shaft from the pointed end.
  5. Next, he'll need to test the angle to make sure it will work.  Have him place the point on the ground, spin the shaft between his palms and let go. It will spin a moment if the hole is true. If not, it will topple immediately. If it needs adjusting, he can re-core to straighten the hole, trim the turnip edges to change the balance, or start over.
  6. When he's satisfied with the spin, have him twist rubber bands above and below the turnip to hold it in place.
  7. Before he starts using the spindle, it can be helpful to see someone else using it. If you're an accomplished spinner, you can show him yourself. Otherwise, search for a video on the internet that clearly shows how to start thread on the spindle.
  8. Once he's ready, encourage him to give it a try! Tie both yarn ends together around the shaft right above the whorl, on the hook side. Wrap yarn down, from over to under the whorl, half-way around the shaft. You don't need to wrap a full loop around; just so it "catches" the whorl. Then pull the yarn up and through the hook. Have him stand, lightly holding the yarns with one hand, so yarn can pass through his fingers. He should give the whorl a clockwise spin with the other hand and let the spindle "drop" as the yarns entwine.
  9. When the point hits the floor, have him slip the plied yarn out of the hook, wind it clockwise, then re-wind it evenly around the shaft below the whorl. Re-thread and spin another length.

Using the drop spindle can be tricky at first, and it takes a bit of practice, but encourage him to keep trying. It'll get easier and easier each time he tries it, and once he gets the hang of it, he'll gain the confidence that comes from learning a new skill!

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